Chuck Palahniuk's 14th novel, Damned (Doubleday), might be worthwhile for this line alone, from page one: "Actually, watching television and surfing the Internet are really excellent practice for being dead."
The fact that Damned is narrated by a 13-year-old girl who is (as far as we can tell) in hell sweetens the pot. And our antagonized protagonist, Madison, shortly describes her movie-star mother using her notebook computer to spy on their own house in Milan (Madison's father is a billionaire), remotely opening the drapes to watch the snow fall outside. A better metaphor for affluent postmodern alienation -- life lived vicariously --would be hard to find.
But as you'd expect from the author of Fight Club and Choke, Damned is a lot more. Even just its first few chapters reveal several layers of satiric humor, social commentary, Grand Guignol violence and heartbreaking insight. Madison, overweight and unpopular, died at her Swiss boarding school, and her story in hell is partly inspired by the old John Hughes movie The Breakfast Club. (Her hell-cell neighbors those of a jock, a nerd, a cheerleader and a punk rocker.) But there the narrative takes a Wizard of Oz turn, with the crew escaping prison and off to see the Dark Lord.
Meanwhile, each chapter begins with the words, "Are you there, Satan? It's me, Madison." The narrator's blend of snark, precocious wit and unconcealed vulnerability and need is a combination as refreshing as the book is hard to put down. And while Palahniuk evokes a literal hell that even born-again Christians might glancingly recognize, it's characteristically customized with demons from world mythology and geographical features including the Valley of Used Disposable Diapers.
Palahniuk makes a rare Pittsburgh appearance Oct. 27 courtesy of Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures. 7:30 p.m. Thu., Oct. 27. Bellefield Hall Auditorium, Oakland. $20. 412-622-8866